American Airlines Serves 16 Month Old Food

About six weeks ago we learned that American airlines had cut back on their special meals. Three of the meal choices – asian vegetarian, hindu, and muslim – are actually the same thing, diabetic meals now get chicken instead of beef, and five of their special meals now “receive standardized and frozen pre-prepared” entrees with a “one year frozen shelf life.” Yum!

In general I’m not a fan of American’s recent food efforts under the mantra of ‘simplicity’. However up until now pre-ordering special meals has been surprisingly good.

Muslim meal in domestic first class

Zoës Kitchen charcuterie plate in domestic first class

When I shared that American was reducing the variety of their special meals and freezing them up to a year, I was told that other airlines do it too. Jeff Bezos famously says, though, that the biggest mistake companies make is paying attention to their competitors instead of their customers.

But if one year shelf life is supposed to be the cutoff, how come reader @sjaytx was served a vegetarian meal made in February 2018?

Credit: Twitter/@sjaytx)

The passenger shares that he’s an American AAdvantage Executive Platinum who was flying coach, in extra legroom Main Cabin Extra seats along with his family, Dallas Fort-Worth to London Heathrow on June 1.

He’s a vegetarian and will “sometimes order the special meal” even when he knows that the flight’s menu will have a vegetarian choice, since he doesn’t like American’s pasta. Vegan red curry vegetables, he thought, sounded pretty good when the package was presented to him. But then he noticed the manufacture date, 16 months ago. He wound up being given the pasta instead.

I was shocked so waited until regular service and asked the flight attendant. She went and brought another attendant to understand/figure out. I explained my concern that the meal was manufactured in Feb 2018 and this is June 2019.The second attendant took the meal from me and came back. The next part is hilarious. She told me that the date is NOT the expiration date of the meal. I didn’t know how to respond to that. They were nice enough to offer me the regular pasta which I ended up eating.

While he thinks it’s “idiotic” that flight attendants served him the meal with the packaging and date still on it, he is “thankful they did it” so that he didn’t eat it, concerned that it might not have been kept at a constant and correct temperature for the full 16 months since it was prepared.

I reached out to American Airlines a week ago for comment on serving 16 month old meals to customers, and while they promised to get back to me they still haven’t done so. [Update: I spoke with American who tells me that the meal served was within industry norm, but they’re working with catering vendors to provide meals that were made within 40-60 days.]

Nigella Lawson says not to freeze curries more than three months. Since it seems confrontational to be asking flight attendants to bring me the packaging to see when American’s meals were made I think I’ll just stop eating inflight. Would you eat 16 month old American Airlines meals?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Could the date format be DD-MM-YYY? So November 2, 2018 instead of February 11, 2018.

  2. Back after the merger and cutting on food in domestic F American was serving those remarkable shelf-stable sandwiches that would last for many days but not weeks. I was wondering why those are gone for now. I think Gary had found the answer – those were replaced by even longer lasting frozen food!

  3. It is amazing that AA on daily basis finds new ways to set a new record low. I just don’t get that people still fly them.
    My last flight was about 5 yrs back after a a few horrible experiences in a row and I pay gladly more or travel longer to NOT fly them. Just a bunch of amateurs below the lowest possible standard.

  4. Depending on where it was packaged most of the rest of the world uses the day, month, year format for dates so it could have been manufactured on the 2nd of November 2018 which would be less than one year. However, I am doubtful of that answer since it says manufactured for Direct Food Services, LLC Bensenville, IL which makes it sound like it was manufactured in the United States which would mean the typical convention of month, day, year should be followed.

  5. being a vegan myself; I would start ordering only a fruit platter, do you think that also would be weeks/months old?

  6. Oh noes, food that has been frozen 15 months instead of 12 months? What a tragedy, considering that if they ate food frozen for 15 months then absolutely nothing would happen. That what we freeze food for: preservation, you dummies. It will last many years, not just one. Maybe it won’t taste as good, but stop pretending like it’s a health scare.
    People are just looking for something to be outages about.

  7. The prepackaged “Spelt Honey Bun” I was served on an AA flight last month had a “Best if Used by” date of 7/2/2020.

  8. Does this mean that if you are flying paid Flagship First on an international route (say JFK-LHR) and you order a special meal (say a GF special meal) you will essentially be given a 12-month old frozen TV dinner?????

  9. By looking at the quality of AA food it’s clear that AA catering is consulting someone like Nigella for food advice.

  10. From a safety POV, if it was indeed kept frozen from MFG date, there is no problem right?

  11. Was anyone else expecting this to be an article about what food a 16-month old child was served on a flight?

  12. Most countries it is day month year not the American way of month day year…suspect it is not as old as you think.

  13. Thanks for posting this Gary….for reasons of quality, thats why i never order the MOML meal ….especially on domestic carriers, cuz I know it will suck. They always assume all Muslims eat curry..(I guess were all brown and South Asian descent)…..and the quality is terrible. Why even Ariana Airlines has better food…and thats in coach!

  14. Unless i am blind isn’t that 2nd November? 02.11.2018? Although looks like the US has MM/DD/YYYY instead. Anyway if it was frozen from a hygienic point of view, it should be fine if that was the production state though yeah maybe not the best to trust airlines to keep it frozen

  15. Flew domestic first class last week and ordered the special Kosher breakfast. It was the worst airline food I have had in 30 years of flying. Fruit was still frozen, omelet was foul smelling and full of cheap cheese (not listed in menu description), rolls were cold and dry.

  16. If you care about what you eat, why are you eating airline food? Make your own or buy it at a place you trust and bring it.

  17. I fly first class. Order the fruit and cheese plate. You will thank me later.

  18. I have to say that I am shocked. I knew airline meals were prepared then frozen…but I thought it’d be for a week or so at most. Definitely not a month, and definitely not 18 months.

    I tend to pitch things in my freezer around the 6 month mark, if not sooner depending on what it is, and I am the type that does have a logging thermometer in the freezer.

    Then again, this is American and all Dougie is interested in is the race to the bottom. I feel bad for those stuck with American fortress hubs.

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